Psychological Research

, Volume 82, Issue 5, pp 1010–1026 | Cite as

Biases in the production and reception of collective knowledge: the case of hindsight bias in Wikipedia

  • Aileen OeberstEmail author
  • Ina von der Beck
  • Mitja D. Back
  • Ulrike Cress
  • Steffen Nestler
Original Article


The Web 2.0 enabled collaboration at an unprecedented level. In one of the flagships of mass collaboration—Wikipedia—a large number of authors socially negotiate the world’s largest compendium of knowledge. Several guidelines in Wikipedia restrict contributions to verifiable information from reliable sources to ensure recognized knowledge. Much psychological research demonstrates, however, that individual information processing is biased. This poses the question whether individual biases translate to Wikipedia articles or whether they are prevented by its guidelines. The present research makes use of hindsight bias to examine this question. To this end, we analyzed foresight and hindsight versions of Wikipedia articles regarding a broad variety of events (Study 1). We found the majority of articles not to contain traces of hindsight bias—contrary to prior individual research. However, for a particular category of events—disasters—we found robust evidence for hindsight bias. In a lab experiment (Study 2), we then examined whether individuals’ hindsight bias is translated into articles under controlled conditions and tested whether collaborative writing—as present in Wikipedia—affects the resultant bias (vs. individual writing). Finally, we investigated the impact of biased Wikipedia articles on readers (Study 3). As predicted, biased articles elicited a hindsight bias in readers, who had not known of the event previously. Moreover, biased articles also affected individuals who knew about the event already, and who had already developed a hindsight bias: biased articles further increased their hindsight.


Compliance with ethical standards


This research was funded by the German Research Foundation (Grant Numbers OE 604/1-1 and NE 1485/5-1).

Conflict of interest

All authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.

Ethical standards

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Aileen Oeberst
    • 1
    • 2
    Email author
  • Ina von der Beck
    • 2
  • Mitja D. Back
    • 3
  • Ulrike Cress
    • 2
  • Steffen Nestler
    • 4
  1. 1.University of MainzMainzGermany
  2. 2.Leibniz-Institut für WissensmedienTübingenGermany
  3. 3.University of MünsterMünsterGermany
  4. 4.University of LeipzigLeipzigGermany

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